When dealing with a condition that necessitates being out amongst and mingling with people, what better place to be on a Friday night than a bar, especially in Fort Lauderdale. One thing which makes such an activity problematic is being a non- drinker and having an especially low tolerance for drunks.

Addressing those concerns, I opted to go to a dance bar very early in the evening. Being Fort Lauderdale, the phenomenon and tradition of the early bird special was in full effect: the drinks were half price, the music was generally more from my era, and the patronage more mature and sober except for those who were so determined to get their drunk on, they either started imbibing at other establishments mid-afternoon or came out “premedicated,” so to speak. So, armed with my half priced club soda, I found a seat with good sight lines and braced myself for the happy hour onslaught.

Having lived here for a while and due to my professional visibility, it is a rarity I enter such environs without running into at least a couple of people I know, a couple of people who want to meet me for free medical advice, and those who comprise a combination of the two. Since I was out to interact, I suspended my hard and fast “two minutes of professional advice prior to presenting a business card and instructions to call the office in the morning” rule, extending professional related talk time to a gracious three minutes.

The business cards were flying out of my shirt pocket at a nice clip, but I was enjoying the conversation and meeting some new and interesting people. One of those was a gentleman with a snow-white goatee, decked out in a fedora, and possessing the spilled milk pallor of a northern tourist. He was pleasant and our conversation was of considerable more substance than pet questions or who made the best burgers and margaritas in the area.

After an extended period, he thanked me for the conversation, put his right hand on my shoulder, looked me square in the eyes and implored me “… take good care of yourself young man. God loves you” and departed. Not the typical end to a conversation in a bar, but effective nonetheless. A bit later, I noticed my new-found friend out on the dance floor obviously enjoying himself as a slave to the rhythms of the evening. I waved and gave thumbs up. He waved back in acknowledgement. Upon gaining his rhythmic emancipation for the evening, he came over and we started our conversation anew.

My friend was from West Virginia and in the final days of a six week vacation. Apologizing if he was intruding, he had deduced this was not my normal hangout and from personal experience, recognize a person who needed to talk. Having been so thoroughly read by a complete stranger, I opted to share my story. The problem with sharing your stories with a stranger is in doing so, they don’t remain strangers for long. His level of understanding and acceptance was impressive along with his use of religious metaphors and reasoning as he shared, compared, and contrasted his own story was fascinating. By the end of the evening, we had agreed to have lunch that coming Sunday and exchanged contact information. That plan and agreement led to several more conversations and a couple more meals. During that time, I realized and came to appreciate sometimes people are placed in our paths for a reason. In such instances, our job is to realize our good fortune and graciously accept the blessing. In doing so, I realize that to be the person and veterinarian I want to be and take the best care of others, I must take good care of myself. A simple but elusive lesion, at least for me.

Sunday morning on my way to church, I noticed a small sheet of paper on the extreme right corner of my dash. Since the usual self- generated detritus in my truck ends up either in the passenger seat or on the floor, I surmised it was placed there by my friend after dinner Friday evening, since he departed on Saturday morning. The note read, “My wish for you is that God blesses and keep you safe and well.” At that point it is crystal clear. I do believe in angels.

Dr. Bland is a small and exotic animal practitioner in Oakland Park, FL. He can be reached at 954-673-8579.